OPINION: Eagles fuming over 'cheap shot' on Darren Sproles

Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)

Stephen Means loves the Incredible Hulk.

That's who Means turned into when Mighty Mouse got knocked out.

Philadelphia Eagles' Darren Sproles is led off the field with Philadelphia Eagles' head coach Doug Pederson after taking a hit during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Means had seen Washington assassin Deshazor Everett launch himself at the head of scrappy Eagles punt returner Darren Sproles well before the ball arrived. He did so with what appeared to be clear and premeditated intent, and with actual malice.

Everett's view of Sproles was not impeded. Everett took four steps at nearly full speed as Sproles walked forward to catch the punt, utterly defenseless.

Everett aimed for Sproles' head, sprang forward and nearly decapitated Sproles with his forearm and shoulder. The grisly "crunch" sounded like a car accident. Sproles grabbed his helmet in agony.

Philadelphia Eagles' Darren Sproles, left, is hit by Washington Redskins' Deshazor Everett on a punt return during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Sproles is 5-6 and generously listed at 190 pounds. Everett is 6-feet and 198 pounds of dirty player. Means was 6-3, 263 pounds of vengeance.

Everett, covering an earlier punt, had earlier taken out tight end and long snapper Brent Celek with a blindside block. This hit on Sproles stank to high heaven, and Means knew it. Before the four medics got to Sproles, Means was trying to get at Everett.

"I was angry. We were all angry. I look at him like a brother," Means said, pausing, choking up. "When I see something like that happen to him I just . . . I don't know."

Separated from Everett, Means' eyes found the video board.

"It was even worse seeing it on the replay," Means said.

Indeed it was.

If the league has any real intention to protect its players, Everett will be fined and suspended. Even had Everett been ejected Sunday, the loss of Sproles would have been much more costly.

Sproles is a multifaceted Pro Bowl player, a six-point threat any time he takes the field. He has seven career punt returns for a touchdown, seventh all-time and second among active players. Everett is an undrafted safety who has never started a game in two seasons.

Sproles had already returned one punt for a touchdown, though it was called back because of an inconsequential penalty. Sproles also had caught a touchdown pass. The little guy was a big reason why the Eagles trailed by only 21-19 with 11 minutes, 27 seconds to play. Even at 33, Sproles remains the Eagles' most dangerous player . . . unless you send a scrub out there to give him a concussion.

"Obvious cheap shot," said Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. "I've never seen the guy before. Didn't know who he was, going into the game. If that's how he wants to make a name for himself, so be it . . . That was BS. Darren didn't even have the ball and he tried to take Darren's head off."

Of course, Everett pleaded innocent.

"I thought the ball was right there in front of me," Everett lied.

It hit him in the back.

"I was just giving my full effort to go out there and make the tackle," Everett bleated.

You cannot tackle a player who doesn't have the ball.

Everett sent his heartfelt condolences to Sproles through the press but he didn't dare send them through an Eagles player. While the teams commingled on the field after the game, Everett slithered up Washington's tunnel without shaking anyone's hand.

Means looked for him for a minute or two, then ran into the Eagles' locker room and went straight to the trainer's table to find Sproles.

"You good?" Means asked.

"I'm good," Sproles said.

That calmed Means.

For now.